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FROM THE PRESS BOX: PLAYOFF FOOTBALL — NCAA AND NFL (2021-01-07)

We learned a couple things Friday during the NCAA Division I football semifinals, and were also reminded that nothing is a sure thing.

An Alabama-Clemson championship match-up was a clear consensus among college football experts, but Ohio State quickly reminded us that’s why the games are played.

In the opening game, the Crimson Tide took immediate control, and Notre Dame never threatened.

The contest was pretty even between the tackles, but Alabama — namely Devonta Smith — simply had too much speed on the perimeter for the Irish.

 Notre Dame’s defense did a good job against Najee Harris and the Alabama ground game, and took away the Tide’s tight ends, but once Smith caught the ball on the outside, he was unstoppable.

Conversely, the Irish ran the ball effectively, and Ian Book utilized his tight ends, but Alabama’s secondary took away Notre Dame’s wide receivers, which was perhaps their weakest position anyway.

Perhaps the biggest reason Alabama won, aside from Smith’s talents, was the fact that QB Mac Jones had all day in the pocket against a Notre Dame defense that did a good job all season of harassing opposing QBs.

In the nightcap, Ohio State QB Justin Fields was simply spectacular, throwing for six TDs, despite being helped off the field after taking a big hit in the second quarter.

It helps that Fields has a pair of first-round talents at wide receiver in Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, and a running back in Trey Sermon, who has gained more than 500 yards in his last two games (the Big Ten Championship and national semifinals).

The Buckeyes hit on a number of big downfield throws against a highly-touted Clemson defense. They will face an even better secondary Monday in the championship game.

The key to the win was Ohio State’s ability to harass and sack Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence. Even the best QBs struggle when they can’t get comfortable in the pocket.

It will be interesting to see if the Buckeye defense can generate the same type of pass rush against the Crimson Tide.

Looking ahead, I think the Alabama-Ohio State championship game is going to be a very high scoring contest.

There are more “ifs” surrounding the Buckeyes.

•  If they can run the ball …

•  If we see the Fields that lit up Clemson, and not the Fields who struggled against Indiana and Northwestern…

•  If they can pressure Jones, and alleviate the pressure on their secondary …

If they can do those three things, they can win.

As for the Crimson Tide? They just have to play the way they have all season — with an overwhelming offense, and a defense that make enough stops to win.

My only concern is Alabama tends to start fast, and then coast a bit. Against most teams, they can turn it back on if they need to, but against a team like Ohio State it could prove costly.

It’s going to be a fun game, unless you play defense … ALABAMA 45, OHIO STATE 37.

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The final Sunday of the NFL regular season was an interesting one to say the least.

All everyone could talk about Monday was the Eagles pulling QB Jalen Hurts with the lead, only to lose to Washington. The Football Team clinched the NFL East with the win, and the Giants were eliminated.

I am not as outraged as most when it comes to coach Doug Pederson pulling Hurts. Yeah, in a perfect world Hurts finishes the game, but it’s Week 17 and a meaningless game for the Eagles. I’ll give Pederson the benefit of the doubt.

Bottom line is the Giants finished the season at 6-10. I have a hard time mustering any anger at the Eagles for not winning to ensure the Giants a playoff spot.

A few thoughts on Week 17:

•  The Bills put up 56 points on a good Miami Dolphins defense, and Josh Allen looked every bit as good as Patrick Mahomes or Aaron Rodgers in the process.

Buffalo has weapons on the outside, and Allen is dangerous when he takes off.

The Bills are going to be a tough out in the playoffs.

•  Houston’s Deshaun Watson may be the best QB in the NFL no one is talking about.

The Clemson product completed 70.2 percent of his passes this season for 4,823 yards and 33 TDs, against just seven interceptions. He also ran for 434 yards and three TDs.

The Texans finished 4-12, which tells you how bad their defense was.

•  Derrick Henry is a beast, but the Titans will be hard-pressed to repeat their playoff performance from last year, with a defense that gave up 38 points to a 4-12 Texans team.

•  Before it’s all said and done, I think Trevor Lawrence will wish he had been drafted by the Jets, and not the Jaguars.

——————

My picks for the NFL’s wild card weekend:

•  The Colts are sneaky good, especially on defense, but the Bills are clicking, and they are at home. … BUFFALO 31, INDIANAPOLIS 24.

•  The Redskins front seven on defense is very good. If they can pressure Tom Brady, it could be interesting, but the six-time Super Bowl champ has a lot of weapons. … TAMPA BAY 30, WASHINGTON 17.

•  The Bears defense is good, but their offense is inept. ... NEW ORLEANS 26, CHICAGO 10.

•  Lamar Jackson has been very good the last few weeks, and the Ravens offense is better than Houston’s. Of course, Baltimore’s defense isn’t what it use to be either. … BALTIMORE 34, TENNESSEE 31.

•  If inconsistency was a category in the NFL Seattle and Los Angeles, regardless of order, would rank 1-2. That said, I can’t bet against Russell Wilson. … SEATTLE 27, LOS ANGELES 20.

•  Covid has taken a toll on Cleveland. The Steelers are ripe for the picking, but I don’t think the Browns are up to the task. … PITTSBURGH 23, CLEVELAND 19.

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